Dangerous Gospel?

Since Vaux has been Resting In Peace, some of us have been going along to a local CofE church… for various un-thought-through reasons, but I suppose to keep something ticking over.

While I don’t want to be ungraciously critical, I have to admit I found today’s service particularly depressing. The last week has seen another attempt to suicide-bomb London, appalling atrocities in Egypt and news that the police unloaded 5 shots into the head of an innocent man on the tube. Sure he ran. Sure he may have been guilty of something. Sure he could have been a suicide bomber (carrying no bag). But this seems to be a ramping up of the violence in a country that is simply not used to armed police. Whatever the issues, it rubs, and it hurts.

But you wouldn’t have thought it in church this morning.

What we needed was ‘dangerous speech’ – proper biting invective relating the passage – Romans 7 – to this critical point in the life of our city. What we got were reflections on whether we were sun-flowers or shopping trolleys, prayers that fell off the tongue like pastilles, words spun out like candy-floss soft and sweet, disappearing on touch. It was polite and funny, rather like an episode of The Good Life.

I came home and immediately ripped Brueggemann from my shelves:

The Gospel is too readily heard and taken for granted, as though it contained no unsettling news and no unwelcome threat. We depart having heard, but without noticing the urge to transformation that is not readily compatible with our comfortable believing that asks little and receives less.

Reduced speech leads to reduced lives. We shall not be the community we hope to be if our primary communications are in modes of utilitarian technology and managed, conformed values. [The preacher must ask] is there an alternative universe of discourse to be practiced that will struggle with the truth in ways unreduced? Sunday morning should be the practice of counter life through counter speech. [1]

I suspect that we lose vitality in ministry when our language of God is domesticated and our relation with God is made narrow and predictable. Predictable language is a measure of a deadened relationship in which address is reduced to slogan and cliché… The poetic practice of Jeremiah is an invitation to seek language that is passionate, dangerous and imaginative enough to make available the passion, danger and freedom of God who summons us to God’s own conflict. [Jeremiah] understood that if one tries to care for this people in a protected vacuum without reference to the real life context, one loses vitality because one is engaged in a charade. [2]

Preaching is not moral instuction of problem solving or doctrinal clarification. It is not good advice, nor is it romantic caressing, nor is it a soothing good humour. It is, rather, the ready, steady, surprising proposal that the real world in which God invites us to live is not the one made available by the rulers of this age. [1]

As I say in the book, I feel that too much of our church speak is too settled, to comfortable. I felt Londoners needed this kind of dangerous preaching this morning. And in this particular place, we didn’t get it.

I hope others did.

[1] Finally Comes the Poet

[2] Hopeful Imagination


4 responses to “Dangerous Gospel?”

  1. alan hirsch

    You are a profound poet Kester. Thanks for the reflection. It goes deep and is very well written. Thanks again!

  2. And thanks for the encouragements Alan… Kindred bro!
    Let’s hope we cross soon.
    Shame about the rain eh? Guess we might sneak a draw out of Warne and McGrath’s hands…

  3. Yasmin

    Thanks for your honesty Kester. I had a very similar experience in church this morning with no mention of the chaos in London this week. It is frustrating and disappointing.

  4. Reminds me of the story of how the Russian Orthodox Church held a Synod on the day that the Russian revolution broke out and discussed, prayed and celebrated the Eucharist without ever mentioning events in their country. Can I reassure you that here in Pennine Yorkshire the events in London and its connection with our Muslim neighbours was mentioned prayed about and we meet tomorrow night to discuss what we can do to break down barriers.